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Ecoripe to sample organic coconut at SEPC event

Ecoripe has seen its business model expand quite significantly over its 20-year life as its Guatemala papaya beginnings have expanded to include a wide range of crops as well as participation in the organic sector and being part of the “Fresh from Florida” program. In fact, for the Southern Exposure event, organic coconuts will be front and center in the firm’s exhibit booth.

CEO Marc Holbik relayed to The Produce News in an email interview how the company began “cultivating papaya on the southern coast of Guatemala in 1997, working with the USDA and the Guatemalan government for over five years to develop and approve the protocol to export Guatemalan grown papayas to the U.S. market.”

ecoripe By 2002, the fruits of their labors began to appear with limited exports to the United States. “In 2004, I opened up an office here in South Florida to distribute our papayas directly,” he said.  “We soon began to represent papaya growers in Belize and in Panama.”

Today the company still works with papaya growers in Guatemala and Belize and also continues to buy large papayas from Panama. Product expansion came to the forefront in 2010.

“We had built our own coolers and began to purchase and distribute more specialties from Central America, such as rambutan, Asian vegetables (Chinese eggplant, bittermelons, long squash and Chinese Okra), as well as more mainstream tropical commodities such as pineapples, mangos, and okra. Today we move around 75 different items weekly from our PrimusGFS certified warehouse here in Medley (FL).”

The company sources from or represents growers in about 15 countries, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Thailand and Vietnam.

Holbik listed the company’s top three items as rambutan, papaya, and Chinese eggplant. “From now through spring, we will have strong volumes of Chinese eggplants, okra, and mango (Peru then Guatemala). Our strength, though, is really in the diversity of specialty tropical items we carry. Our customers put together orders with tropical roots like yuca, malanga, boniato, eddoes, and turmeric with exotic fruits such as Star Apple, Yellow Pitahaya, Thai Guava, and jackfruit, and add on veggies such as chive flower, Thai eggplants, Indian okra, and long squash.” 

As far as its own growing operation in Guatemala, the company has diversified its plantings with Chinese eggplant now being its focus for the export market.

Holbik said marketing circumstances has made it less appealing to send papaya to the U.S. market from that Central American country.

“We have also focused on working with local growers here in Florida, and are proud to be part of the ‘Fresh from Florida’ program,” Holbik said. “Longan, lychee, guavas, dragonfruits, and jackfruits are just some of the amazing produce we work with here in south Florida. We have seen very strong growth the past two years in our local produce programs.”

Another area of focus is the firm’s growing commitment to organic production.

“The health of our soils, farm workers, and everyone who eats our fruits and vegetables are improved with the implementation of organic standards,” Holbik said.

“Right now we offer certified organic limes, coconuts and avocados, and soon will be adding passionfruit and baby bananas.”

This is the third year Ecoripe is participating in the SEPC Southern Exposure.

“We are excited to introduce and demo samples of organic genuine coconut, a unique and easy to enjoy young coconut from Thailand,” said Holbik. “We are also introducing yellow pitahaya, grown in the amazon regions of Ecuador; it is the sweetest of the dragonfruits, and boasts many health benefits.”

But most importantly, Holbik said the company’s point of differentiation “is being a value-based organization, with specific emphasis in excellence, service and integrity… we are committed to continual improvement and learning, always striving to exceed our past levels of performance… we recognize that we do not just sell produce, we provide the important service of food distribution… and… we base our actions and decisions on honesty and professionalism. This is key to develop healthy and sustainable business relationships.”